Because He Didn’t Promise Us A Rose Garden

Come Easter Vigil, I will have been a Catholic for two full years. It seems like it has been longer than that,  and shorter at the same time. Perhaps because I feel so at home, it feels like I have been a Catholic forever. But then the saying goes, Time flies when you’re having fun, and it feels like I just got on this ride.

Notice, I said that I feel at home, but I don’t always feel comfortable. How could I? Bearing crosses and confronting your true self and your sins is tough work. It takes humility, which hasn’t been a popular virtue in the world since the very beginning and doesn’t come naturally to me. Add to this being constantly tripped up by temptations and how is this comfortable? [Read more...]

Because of J. D. Salinger, Unlikely as It Seems

J.D. Salinger died yesterday at the age of 91 and, full disclosure, I’ve never read The Catcher in the Rye. Nor have I bothered getting detailed autobiographical information on Mr. Salinger. I can only say that his work had an effect on my prayer life, thus proving once again, to me anyway, that God continues to work through the secular in unexpected ways. [Read more...]

For All the Saints: Macarius the Great

When I was going through the RCIA program as a candidate, the need to choose a Confirmation name came up. The director of the program and my sponsor both gave me some suggestions (including St. Francis Xavier, as I recall).

I liked what I read about him, but he didn’t seem right for me. I thought a lot about it. I realized that I was choosing a friend in heaven whom I could ask to pray for me. That is a special trust, so choosing this person haphazardly wasn’t in the cards for me.

By this time in my journey, I had come across the Desert Fathers & Mothers. I love these people! Such stories, such sacrifice, such practical sayings! All very motivating to a guy who, despite all my earlier objections to Catholic Christianity, found himself standing in the recruiting office saying “sign me up.”

I really enjoyed what they had to say about living our faith. But one of them stood out to me most, and I knew he was the patron saint for me: St. Macarius the Great. His feast day was yesterday (January 15, so I humbly apologize for not getting this post up sooner, Abba!).

St. Macarius is known by other sobriquets as well: Macarius the Great; Macarius the Wonder Worker; Macarius the Elder. As for me, I just call him Abba Macarius when I ask him to pray for me. He once said this about prayer:

Abba Macarius was asked, “How should one pray?” The old man said, “There is no need at all to make long discourses; it is enough to stretch out one’s hands and say, ‘Lord, as you will, and as you know, have mercy.’ And if the conflict grows fiercer say, ‘Lord, help!’ He knows very well what we need and he shows us his mercy.”

Amen to that! Here a few other stories and wise sayings to give you a taste of my patron:

A brother once came to the abbot Macarius and said to him, “Master, speak some word of exhortation to me, that, obeying it, I may be saved.” St. Macarius answered him, “Go to the tombs and attack the dead with insults.” The brother wondered at the word. Nevertheless he went, as he was bidden, and cast stones at the tombs, railing upon the dead. Then returning, he told what he had done. Macarius asked him, “Did the dead notice what you did?” And he replied, “They did not notice me.”

“Go, then, again,” said Macarius, “and this time praise them.” The brother, wondering yet more, went and praised the dead, calling them just men, apostles, saints. Returning, he told what he had done, saying, “I have praised the dead.”

Macarius asked him, “Did they reply to you?” And he said, “They did not reply to me.” Then said Macarius, “You know what insults you have heaped on them and with what praises you have flattered them, and yet they never spoke to you. If you desire salvation, you must be like these dead. You must think nothing of the wrongs men do to you, nor of the praises they offer you. Be like the dead. Thus you may be saved.”

Wow, talk about learning to be dead to the world. Sheesh-ka-bobbers!

The same Abba Macarius while he was in Egypt discovered a man who owned a beast of burden engaged in plundering Macarius’ goods. So he came up to the thief as if he was a stranger and he helped him to load the animal. He saw him off in great peace of soul saying, ‘We have brought nothing into this world, and we cannot take anything out of the world.’ (1Tim.6.7) ‘The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.’ (Job 1.21)

Ahem, I get a lump in my throat just reading that one. I personally am so far away from this level of spirituality that any help I can get from a friend like this is more than welcome! And then I found out he wrote twenty-two homilies too. Did he really write them? Or did someone else write them and use his name (much as the writer of Ecclesiastes leads us to believe he was King Solomon)? I don’t know, and I really don’t care. They are powerful homilies, and I feel duty bound to share them with you.

They have titles like the following:

That God alone is able to deliver us out of the bondage of the wicked ruler.

Christians ought to go over the course of this world with care, that they may attain the praise of God.

There is a wide difference between Christians and the men of this world.

The gifts of grace are preserved by a humble mind and a ready will, but destroyed by pride and sloth.

How the soul ought to demean herself in holiness and purity towards her Bridegroom, Jesus Christ.

Christians that are willing to improve and increase ought to force themselves to every thing that is good.

If you think these titles are wise sayings unto themselves, you owe it to yourself to read the homiles yourself here. You’ll be glad you did!
Happy belated Feast Day Abba Macarius!

Because of the Feast Day of the Holy Family

For the past ten days, I have been on vacation visiting friends and family in Southern California—immersed in domestic life in a manner more up close and personal than usual. Sometimes I am at a loss to understand what my children are doing and where they are coming from. But I don’t leave them wondering where my wife and I are coming from.
That is why I am glad this is the Feast Day of the Holy Family. I could use some uplifting words on the vocation of parenting right about now, and I’m sure my wife could too! And I look forward to my children hearing these words as well.
Following our successful visit to the Mission of San Juan Capistrano and playing in the waves and watching the sun set at Doheney State Beach, times got a bit rocky with my children. As I wrote here, my kids (14 in a few days, 10, and 8) are “in the know” regarding Santa Claus. As Christmas Day rapidly approached, there were a number of less than kind remarks regarding the paucity of gifts sitting under the tree at grandma & grandpa’s house.
Forget about the logistics of carting presents from Tennessee to Southern California, or back for that matter. My wife and I gave plenty of advance notice that the cost of this trip would be steep in a tough economy, but that mattered little to the 13-and-under crowd. Sure, buying gifts for others upon arrival would be good, but “What about us” is what my children were saying between the lines.
Which makes the Holy Family story that much more needed for me and my family this year. The antiphon to the Invitatory Psalm intonesLet us worship Christ, the Son of God, who made himself obedient to Mary and to Joseph.Consider the antiphon while also considering that Jesus is God. . . . He [God] obeyed the two human beings entrusted with his care for close to thirty years before he “left the nest.” That is the message that our children need to hear today—not just from me and my wife, but from the Church. Madison Avenue and network television aren’t sending this message, and I’m pretty sure that the government botches the message too.

The next line from the LOTH that struck me is Luke 2:41, which reads,
Each year the parents of Jesus went to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover.This indicates that the Holy Family were practicing their faith regularly, not sporadically. The lives of the Holy Family revolved around worshiping God, and that is the model for us to emulate too: Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness . ..Flash back to last evening when I informed my eldest son that I would be waking him up early in the morning so that we could go to Mass (0700) before heading off to day 1 of a four-day baseball camp (0900 = show time) Merry Christmas, kiddo! Was his reaction angelic beatitude? More like Sturm und Drang. It was definitely an example of amour-propre in action.

But despite the sound and the fury of my eldest, I find comfort in the fact that Mary and Joseph lived their faith in a manner that is the very model of this verse from Deuteronomy 6:5,

Therefore, you shall love the LORD, your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your strength.

This commandment (note the word shall and not may in the verse) gives me the strength to ignore the whining, grumbling, and complaining of my children while staying focused on Commander’s Intent (see verse above). The Church understands this commandment because it makes sure there are ample opportunities for the rank and file like me to keep the Sabbath Holy—masses beginning on Saturday evenings and running through Sunday. Sounds like Semper Fidelis in action.

I find comfort in knowing that,

The boy grew in wisdom and in stature and the grace of God was with him.

That is my prayer for my children, yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Though Christian churches of every flavor celebrate the importance of parenting, this is another example of an idea coming full circle, with completeness and amazing grace, within the Catholic Church when it marks a Feast Day celebrating the importance of family and the vocations of both parents and children.

The Short Reading from Deuteronomy 5:16 from today’s LOTH is right on the mark again:

Honor you father and mother, as the Lord God has commanded you, so that you may have long life and may prosper in the land that the Lord your God gives to you.

Amen, and thanks be to God!

Because Going To Mass On Vacation Is Easy II

If you think that I have already had my fair share of going to Mass on this trip to Southern California, you would be wrong. In fact, I can’t get enough of what the Church has to offer, even when I am on vacation.

I have a confession to make: I go to daily mass as often as I can. And trust me, it isn’t because I feel “holier than thou” doing it. I feel relieved when I go. For those of you who can’t go daily because of time constraints or lack of opportunity (no parish nearby), I can understand. But in my case, there is a parish within walking distance from where I work and it holds Mass daily at 12:10 p.m., right in the heart of my lunch hour. So I usually just go.

Before I was Catholic, it never even dawned on me to go to Church every day. I heard about this practice when my wife told me her aunt would go daily (years before I became a Catholic) and I distinctly remember thinking to myself what a waste of time and energy! Get a life, people! But now, I see what she was up to and I think I understand.

So, I wake up each morning and start my day by reading the Liturgy of the Hours and the daily Mass readings. This has become a routine for me too, after being welcomed into the Church. It gives me great consolation to pray the LOTH and sometimes it ignites the spark for a post, or two. But it doesn’t supplant the desire for receiving “my daily bread” in the form of the Eucharist.

This morning I discovered that a parish nearby has daily mass at 8:30 a.m., and having found this out at 7:40 a.m., there was no doubt where I would be come 8:30. I thank one of my wife’s friends, who we met for dinner last night (and who invited us to Christmas Eve Mass) for alerting me that there was a parish nearby: St. John Eudes Parish in Chatsworth. I did a Google search and discovered it was a whopping mile and a half from where we are staying on this leg of our trip.

It never ceases to amaze me that I am not alone at these daily Masses. This morning there were at least 60 other people there with me. I pulled into the parking lot and had to search for a place to park. The first time I went to the daily Mass back home, I was stunned to find 20 people there. I figured it would just be the priest and me.

So, whew, I got to go to Mass this morning! Now to breakfast and then off to the “adventure du jour,” the Wild Animal Park of the San Diego Zoo. World renowned, an absolute must see, the stories we were going to be able to tell and the pictures we could share! It was going to be fantastic! And then . . . we got stuck in traffic.

Chatsworth isn’t exactly a few minutes from Escondido, where this attraction is located, even if there aren’t 8 million other drivers on the road trying to get to other places at the same time. As we slogged slowly southward, I saw signs announcing how long it would take to get to certain landmarks that make sense only to people who live in Southern California. Like “91 Freeway—30 Minutes” and that is when we were still 3 miles from intersecting the 605 Freeway. Have I lost you? Probably.

Suffice it to say that the trip to the Wild Animal Park was not looking good. And I wasn’t looking forward to the prospect of paying the lofty admission price and then trying to squeeze all the pleasure out of my money’s worth before the park closed in the three hours that would be left by the time we got there. I had clear visions of stress and unhappiness if this mission was continued.

So I adapted, improvised, and overcame (Marines are good at that) because the “natives were restless” (being in a car for two hours in traffic feels like eight hours when you are 13 and under) and exited the freeway in San Juan Capistrano and headed to the Mission located there. Yep—we went to Church!

We spent three and a half hours at the Mission in San Juan Capistrano and not one minute felt rushed. Ten acres of beautiful grounds, and gardens and historic ruins and chapels. I learned how the Mission was founded on All Saints Day in 1776 and how Abraham Lincoln deeded the property back to the Catholic Church two weeks before he was assassinated.

I learned too that 40 worshipers had been killed when an earthquake in 1812 destroyed the The Great Stone Church built in 1797. The ruins of that building are still amazing to see today and were decorated with a beautiful nativity scene shown here.

I learned that San Juan of Capistrano is the Spanish form of Saint John of Capistrano or, in Italian, Giovanni da Capistrano. He is pretty “hard corps” as well—known as “the Soldier Saint” because he defeated the Ottoman Turks at the Siege of Belgrade in 1456 when he was, get this, 70 years old! That is probably why he only carried a red banner and a crucifix into battle, armor and a shield being too heavy, I bet.

Although the Turks didn’t kill him, and he was victorious in battle, bubonic plague took him in the end. He had been a lawyer before becoming a Franciscan friar and a renowned preacher. He is the patron saint of jurists. He once spoke to a crowd of over 126,000—more people than can fit in the Rose Bowl—and long before there were microphones, sound systems, etc.

And we haven’t even talked about Fray Junipero Serra, who established the entire chain of Missions in Alta California. Fr. Serra was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1988. Every school child in California knows about Fr. Serra when they complete their 4th Grade Mission project for history class. I’m not sure if public school children complete these projects too, but I know that all the Catholic school kids do. And the Mission sells kits to help you complete these projects just like the Boy Scout shop sells kits for Pinewood Derby cars.

And my kids? They got to run around the grounds and get their ya-ya’s out on one hand, while getting to say prayers and light candles on the other. They loved seeing the koi swimming in the fountains, and the way the Spanish soldiers’ barracks were turned out. And they were amazed to see a bride and groom having their photographs made in the stunningly beautiful little chapel while hearing stories about how their Mom and Dad came here as newlyweds over twenty years ago too. They chased Monarch butterflies and later chased waves as we watched the sun set into the Pacific Ocean from the sands of Doheny State Beach. Mission (pun intended) accomplished!

Yes, going to Mass on vacation is easy. You never know where or what it may lead you to. But so far, it has always led me to green pastures while restoring my soul.

Because Going To Mass On Vacation Is Easy

One of the neatest things about being Catholic is that I can go to Mass anywhere in the world and feel comfortable. I never felt that way beforehand. Growing up as a non-denominational Christian, we visited other churches rarely and when we did, it felt weird.

As a result, when on vacation we just skipped church. We didn’t know anyone, and we really weren’t missing anything except a sermon and who knew if that was going to be any good? When visiting relatives, if it happened to be a Sunday, we would sometimes attend with them, so there was a modicum of safety from being singled out as potential new members.

But if we didn’t know anyone? Nope. What was the point? We were just passing through and the fellowship of our local church would be absent and we would be like strangers and stick out like sore thumbs.

Now that I’m a Catholic, I love visiting other parishes! And I know that the fellowship of our home parish community is not the big draw anyway. The big draw is Christ and His Presence in the Eucharist. We don’t need to know anyone locally because the most important Person there knows us backwards and forwards.

The photograph above is of St. Peter Claver Church in Simi Valley, California. Full disclosure: we attended this parish the other night with my wife’s family for Simbang Gabi, a Filipino Advent Vigil Mass traditionally held before Christmas. And thanks to my in-laws, we enjoyed a catered dinner complete with Filipino dishes with about 200 of our new parish “friends.” Neat!


The second photograph is of the Blessed Sacrament Parish in Seattle, Washington. We attended services there this past summer when I attended a conference in that city. Run by Dominican Friars, it featured a homily given by someone dressed like St. Anthony of Padua.

Aside from a few nuances here or there, the Mass follows the same format as in our home parish, and you can count on that worldwide. Dominicans are known for their skills as preachers, so the homily was quite good too.

I have had friends who are not Catholic ask me about visiting a Catholic Church. I’ve told them that it is a very comfortable experience because if you don’t call any attention to yourself, no one will bother you. Heck, for all they know you are a super-devout contemplative so engrossed in your prayer life that they wouldn’t think of bothering you. Or if you are the outgoing type, you’d probably be welcomed like a long-lost family member and given the grand tour of the building. Now that is hospitality!


The last photograph is of St. James Cathedral in Seattle. When my family and I attended mass here, we were asked if we would bring up the gifts of bread and wine that would become the Blessed Sacrament. I said the only thing I could say: Absolutely! Yes!

Did we know where to stand or any other particulars? No. Did we know anyone there? Not a soul, except Our Lord. And when the time came for us to present the Gifts, all went well and without a hitch. What a blessing to have even been asked!

And that is how it is when we are on vacation on the West Coast now. We go to Church as a family. We’ve even been late for the English-speaking Mass and sat through a Spanish Mass before. Did I understand the words in the liturgy and homily? No. But everything that really matters we understood just fine.

This is yet another of the graces and benefits of belonging to the largest Christian Church in the world. Thanks be to God.

Because “Don’t Give Up the Ship” Makes Sense

As a relatively new convert to Catholicism (Class of 2008), friends have asked me the following question, “How could you join such a scandal-plagued institution?”

My answer has been something along the lines of what St. Peter said to Our Lord in the Gospel of John (6:67-69) when,

Jesus then said to the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?” Simon Peter answered him, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are The Holy One of God.”

But the painting shown here speaks to me as well. It is entitled A Ship In Need In A Raging Storm and was painted by Willem Van de Velde II in 1707.

Throughout Her history, the Church has been depicted as a Ship. As a Marine, I have an affinity for all things nautical and love the jargon and the feel of all things naval. And I have written before that I read the entire Aubrey-Maturin series by Patrick O’Brien which, in a way, helped soften me up for Blaise Pascal’s assault on my personal beachhead.

The Ship as metaphor for the Church works to answer the question above easily for me. When your ship is damaged, due to weather or as a result of action against an enemy, the command is “man the pumps, clear spars, frother a sail over the hull, beach the ship for repairs,” etc.. The command is not “abandon ship.”

As for the members of the crew who commit acts of treachery, criminal conduct etc? Yes, they must be dealt with internally within the ship (using the Articles of War) and externally through the powers of the state. But again, and consider that I am just an able-bodied seaman (nothing more) writing this, when crises like these erupt, the alarm given is “man overboard!” and a life-line is thrown or a launch put down in the water in order to effect a rescue if at all possible. Sometimes, due to weather for example, this is not possible. But the order is certainly not “scuttle the ship.” Never.

Sometimes the orders and alarm occur simultaneously. And scandals will occur, as they always do. As Catholic Christians, we are called to man our battle stations and stay alert as members of the crew of His Majesty’s Ship. The command is “Don’t Give Up The Ship!”

Semper Fidelis

Because This May Be My Last Mass

Gulp . . . My eyes water, and I get a lump in my throat just looking at this photograph.

That is Our Lord on Iwo Jima, and a priest providing comfort and solace to the sheep of His flock. Young Marines in a crazy, mixed-up, madhouse of a world with death staring them right in the face. Death from a thousand angles, at any second, in diverse manners and forms, all of which are horrible.

How do they do it? I mean function in that environment? The same thing is going on in Kandahar today. How do they do it? I can’t put “it” into words that you would understand—not yet anyway.

One of my favorite Marines in the Marine Corps Roll of Honor is Sergeant Major Daniel Daly, winner of two Medals of Honor. He is famous for saying (as a Gunnery Sergeant) the following immortal phrase—”C’mon you sons-of-bitches! you wanna live forever?”—at the WW I Battle of Belleau Wood.

Looking at this photograph, whether you agree or disagree with the “reasons” for either World War (see our recent post), the Chaplain Corps provides much comfort to us troops. I wasn’t a Catholic when I was serving in the line as a Marine. (Wow, I would seriously recommend it now!) But many of us took advantage of the comfort the Padres provided.

Semper Fidelis

For All the Saints

This is the post that launched the good ship YIMCatholic into the open sea of the Catholic blogosphere  one year ago yesterday. (August 17, 2009). As you can see, it garnered all of three comments, the first of which didn’t show up until three weeks later. So,  from that shaky beginning, how do you explain the following?  One year,  645 posts, two partners, and 186,600  blog views later, YIMCatholic has managed to make it one lap around the track. Whew—Talk about a long lap!

I want to thank all of the readers, Google followers, Facebook fans, Twitter followers, etc., and friends in the world of Catholic blogs, who have taken a few moments out of their precious time every day (or so) to stop by this space. I also would like to thank the many friends we have made along the way. They have helped to build this community, and bring it to where it is today. Kevin Knight of New Advent, Elizabeth Scalia, aka“the Anchoress”, Deacon Greg Kandra of The Deacons Bench, Julie D. at Happy Catholic, and the many, many others (see blogroll in sidebar!) that have shared this journey with Frank, Allison and me; they have helped present our work to others so that we three could share our experiences of being Catholic with other Catholics, those in discernment, and those who just wonder why we continue to reflect on the most compelling question of all: Why I am Catholic?

Here’s to hoping, and praying, that we will celebrate many more anniversaries for YIMCatholic into the future! Now, dear readers, to the post that started it all…

When I was in fourth grade at The Blake School in Hopkins, Minnesota, I met my first Catholic. He was a boy in my class, who invited me over to his house one day. I don’t remember a crucifix or a Madonna; I don’t remember the term catechism or CCD being mentioned; I don’t even remember my friend’s name or what he looked like. All I remember is Butler’s Lives of the Saints, on the bookshelf above his head.


I understood, perhaps from a comment that he made, perhaps by noticing Butler, that my fourth-grade buddy, or at least someone in his family, knew about the saints and I didn’t. This gave me a sense of loss, the awareness that something was missing from my life. I know I didn’t envy his being Catholic. John Kennedy ran against Richard Nixon for president in my fourth-grade year, and I distinctly remember declaring to someone, “I would never vote for a Catholic!”

Catholic was strange, alien, suspect in my Midwestern, Protestant world. Forty-seven years later, when I told my father that I was converting to Catholicism, his first reaction was, “My mother would roll over in her grave.” Maybe that’s where the prejudice came from: his Methodist parents, although he himself never showed any anti-Catholic prejudice and was beamingly proud of my conversion. Yet despite the bias of my upbringing, I knew, even at age nine, that the saints were something else again.

We attended a Congregational church in our community outside Minneapolis. It was a beautiful white building with nothing on the walls except high, clear windows that let the Sunday morning light pour in. I remember no stained glass, no Stations of the Cross, no iconography whatsoever except for a naked cross at the head of the nave. Nothing spoke of the saints.

In Connecticut, where we moved when I was ten, my parents scouted for a church and ended at an Episcopalian congregation in the rolling countryside north of town. Here the walls were stone and the light streamed in from one side only, through large, sliding glass doors that overlooked an upscale garden. As I recall, there was stained glass above the altar, but no saints anywhere to be found

In Connecticut there was one intriguing set of symbols that I did not remember from our church in Minnesota. When I was twelve, I took confirmation classes, which qualified me to kneel at the sanctuary rail and take communion one Sunday a month—the statutory Episcopal limit, it seemed. Along the rail, there were cushions for kneeling that had been slip-cased in needlepoint by some industrious members of the altar guild. From left to right, against a blue knit background, were the traditional symbols of the twelve Apostles: keys for Peter, an X-shaped cross or saltire for Andrew, a carpenter’s square for St. Thomas, the gruesome saw with which St. James the Less was martyred, and so on. I must have asked about these symbols, and it was probably my mother who gave me the answer. She is knowledgeable about cultural history, and it was her mother, not my father’s, who would rattle teacups around Lake Minnetonka in Minnesota by converting to Catholicism after my grandfather died, when I was about twenty-five.

The symbols of the Apostles were like Butler to me: clues to hidden treasure, hints that behind the spare Protestant storyline of Nativity, Crucifixion, and Resurrection, there was a secret language that filled in the gaps, enlarging the simplistic narrative into an epic of adventure and glory. I was in my twenties before I understood that this epic was Catholic.

By that time, I had wandered, alternately on fire and lukewarm, through several years of wishing to live right. In this there was a certain amount of adolescent cluelessness, and in the psycholingo popular at the time, I thought I was experiencing an identity crisis. But my late adolescence was driven by something more: a search for spiritual exemplars and ways of living like them. If I had remained a churchgoer after leaving Greenwich for boarding school in tenth grade, I might have found my way to the saints much sooner. But in the everything-overboard mentality of those Vietnam War years, I probably would not have been satisfied with anything familiar. 


There was a Catholic parish in our neighborhood, St. Sulpice, where we eavesdropped on the mass in French. Around the corner from St. Sulpice was a Catholic bookstore, where I picked up a copy of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola in French. I read it then and still have it today on my bookshelf. En route to Madrid we stopped at Lourdes, where I was entranced by the story of St. Bernadette and a candlelit procession of thousands chanting the Hail Mary in three languages alternately. In Rome, St. Peter’s was our first and last destination, while Assisi was an Italian side trip that we made more than once. Here in a church basement I stared in stunned silence at the intact body of St. Francis’s spiritual sister, St. Clare, covered only with a gauzy shroud. Every feature was clearly discernible beneath the veil eight centuries after her death. I almost thought I saw the gauze rise and fall with her breath

St. Francis was the saint who hit me over the head first, especially in Nikos Kazantzakis’s fictionalized biography and later in Franco Zeffirelli’s film, Brother Son, Sister Moon, in which Francis and Clare are flower children loping through sun-honeyed fields to the strains of English folk minstrel Donovan. Over the next thirty years, as my unchurched life rolled on, other saints grabbed my attention. Vita Sackville West’s biography of Joan of Arc was a thrilling discovery; I was astonished that Joan is no legend. The facts of her miraculous life are known in minute detail thanks to exhaustive testimony recorded at her several trials. When was it I realized that the central figure in the film that had hypnotized me since the mid-1960s was himself a saint, Thomas More in A Man for All Seasons? As time went on, I saw that film fifteen or twenty times, in the cinema, in syndicated TV rerun, on video, on DVD.

For about a month in the mid-1990s, I attended daily mass at the Catholic church in our town. I sat through the liturgy without taking communion until one day I stood with the other parishioners, approached the priest bearing a chalice, and heard him say, “The Body of Christ.” Not knowing what to respond, I said nothing, held my hands before me as I had in the Episcopal Church, received the Host, and consumed it. I was immediately ashamed. When I got home, I asked my wife Katie, born a Catholic, what one is supposed to say when the priest says, “The Body of Christ.” She told me, “Amen.” At that moment, I realized that I would have to stop attending mass until I was ready to become a Catholic. I was an impostor before God.

I never thought about returning to daily mass for the next ten or twelve years. Then one Friday night, when Katie was out with girlfriends, I ate in a restaurant, had one drink too many, and found myself in a Borders bookstore. I went directly to the two-for-one table, thinking that I might find a birthday present for a friend whose birthday was coming up. The next moment I was in front of the book that changed my life. What was it about the book that I noticed first? The cover? A striking painting of ten men and women standing side by side with their hands posed prayerfully in front of them, a multiracial gathering, including one bearded fellow who held an upside-down cross in front of him. No, not the cover.The author? James Martin, SJ. I knew that meant Society of Jesus, Jesuit.


No, what grabbed me was the title, My Life with the Saints. Francis: the rich boy turned mendicant, the holy fool for God. God asked Francis to “repair my church,” and did he ever! Joan: a shepherd girl who, like Bernadette of Lourdes, had visions that spoke to her, visions that told her to ride across war-torn France to lead the disgraced dauphin into battle and to witness the dauphin crowned king at Reims—maid turned militant turned martyr, who died at the stake with the holy name Jesu on her lips. Thomas More: husband, father, scholar, diplomat, statesman, poet, heroic defender of the Faith, Renaissance man turned martyr and saint, “His Majesty’s good servant, but God’s first

Three dramatically different figures—beggar, warrior, statesman—one faith in common. These three saints had professed the same Credo, said the same prayers, received the same Body of Christ, and died with the same God on their minds, in their hearts, and on their lips. As I attended daily mass at St. Mary Star of the Sea Church in Beverly, Massachusetts, and attended RCIA meetings in the old convent a block away, I was convinced that what had worked for these three saints, and for every other saint in Butler, would just have to be good enough for me.

Was it possible that each of the saints—not just Francis and Thomas and Joan, but every last one chronicled by Butler, to say nothing of the hundreds added since—was deluded or just plain wrong about the existence of God, the centrality of Christ, and the reality of human salvation through faith and works? That seemed unlikely to me, although I couldn’t prove otherwise

All that I knew for a certainty, and the certainty has only increased, is that morning mass is the best hour of my day. I do it—I am a Catholic—because nothing else is better for me. Two years on, nothing else seems to make much sense at all.


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